Seth Udinski, FISM News
Pope Francis concluded his visit to Iraq on Monday, after a relatively calm four-day journey to the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. During his visit, Francis spent the majority of time meeting with various Roman Catholic and Islamic religious leaders and calling for peace and harmony between the two faiths.
On Monday, Francis met with Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential religious leaders in Shi’ite Islam. This marks the first time in history that a Roman Catholic Pope has met an Islamic Grand Ayatollah in a personal and amiable way. The Pope’s visit inspired the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to speak to Iraq’s citizens publicly and encourage harmony. He said,
In the atmosphere of love and tolerance promoted by the visit of His Holiness the Pope to the land of Iraq, we present today the call for a national dialogue.
The Pope’s visit was fascinating in light of the bloody history between Catholics and Muslims in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, the two faiths brutalized one another over the control of the Holy Land for nearly two hundred years. In the last twenty years, the number of professing Christians in Iraq has dropped dramatically with the rise of violent Islamic extremism in the country. There were nearly 1.5 million Christians in Iraq at the turn of the century; there are now roughly 300,000.
In his final speech before returning to Rome, the Pope closed his remarks with the phrase “Salam, salam, salam,” the Arabic translation of “Peace, peace, peace.” For Christians in Iraq, the prayer for peace may now be more urgent than ever.